Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I will never run for office...

...or buck to be a Dean, or want some kind of high-level, highly-placed position:

Watching what news I watched over break, something crystallized in my mind that had been floating around there for a while:

"They don't care about us."

Oh, I'm not just talking about Congress, though the whole mess with them voting appropriations for new private jets (when I know people who feel right now that they can't scrape together the cost of a coach ticket to go visit grandparents) was the catalyst.

I've seen it time and again. In government, both local and national. In university bureaucracies. In church leadership, even.

There is a subset of people - hell, maybe it could be ALL people, I don't know - who, when they get a little power, LOVE that power. ADORE that power. See that that power entitles them to things the peons below them aren't worthy of.

And so they do two things: first, they do everything they can to hang on to that power. And second, they start believing that they do, in fact, deserve special treatment.

And I don't want to risk becoming that person.

I've even seen it, as I said, in the power-structure of some churches. Perhaps some people are more immune to developing that mindset - being steeped as they are in the "Servant Leadership" idea that Jesus espoused. But I have seen people who, upon getting some power, wanted MORE. And they wanted to be the only ones WITH power - no compromise.

I think in part the church split my congregation weathered some five years ago was a result of a few individuals getting some power, looking around them, and going, "Why are these old farts still getting their way at all? Why can't we remake the services to be exactly what we want? Why don't we get to spend the church's money on exactly what we want?" And so they left, to start a new church. And there's still bitterness. And people at my church are still asking themselves, "What did we do as a congregation to deserve this?" (And my answer is: nothing. It is the nature of people to behave that way; we were just unfortunate bystanders).

I've also seen it in city government, where ridiculous things happened because a small cabal of people got together and convinced themselves that this thing would be a good idea, that it would build a "lasting name" for them, that people generations down the road would thankfully remember those farsighted councilpeople for doing what they did. And then the thing they want turns out to be a giant boondoggle, a waste of tax dollars, and something the tax base of the community remembers the councilpeople's names for - but mainly so they can NOT vote for them next go-round.

And at universities. I will hasten to say that where I am now is better than most. But I do remember at another school, trying to help an undergrad (I was a grad student at the time) who was reduced to tears because she had a problem, and the different office workers kept sending her to different offices; no one seemed to want to actually HELP. (And I learned from that: if you can't immediately help someone, but think another office can, CALL that office to (a) verify that they can help and (b) alert them that they will NEED to help. [and now, as a faculty member, I may carry a bit more clout than some student walking into the office asking them to help them]).

I've also had the experience of some petty bureaucrat, who really hasn't much power, using what power he or she has to make the person that it is their job to serve miserable. The whole "jump through the hoops, monkey, and then we'll see if I help you" phenomenon.

And it all disgusts me. We were put here to help one another. Yes, it is sometimes inconvenient. (And I probably need to set better boundaries for myself; it is really not unreasonable for me to expect to finish my lunch before dropping everything else to help a student). But it seems to me to be a part of human nature: that power makes people do unsavory things. It makes them think they're better than others. And that's why I'm getting so fed up with Congress. And why I'm still hurting about the church split. And why I have simply refused to do anything other than the "grassroots" type of stuff - like picking up trash or working in the food bank - rather than fundraising or trying to work stuff out with the town council or trying to get laws changed, because dealing with people who have a little power and like to wield it frustrates me too much. I will happily clean up the same stretch of road every quarter, but trying to get the litter ordinances changed - forget it.

Because "they" don't care about "us." As much as I hate "us" and "them" terminology, I think there's nugget of truth to it here.

1 comment:

Dave R. said...

You're right as far as you go, Ricki, but I think the "will to power" is far more prevalent with those who believe in activist governments, or even activist college administrations. They're the ones who believe they're smart enough to run other people's lives. Excuse my partisanship, but it's also why Democrats have a much easier time recruiting candidates than do Republicans. Those of a conservative bent right away start thinking, "Why would I want to be part of something I hate?" Still, once those of any persuasion get a taste of power, in many cases it becomes both intoxicating and addictive--a major good reason for term limits at all levels.

I think officeholders often confuse the "importance" of their positions with their alleged personal importance. I first noticed this when I was a Congressional staffer. Later,I served a term in my state's Senate, didn't seek reelection, and it was both amazing and amusing how suddenly UNimportant I became the day I went out of office.

The other side of the coin: You have to hold public office to realize completely how the general public is full of whiners and parasites who have the idea that the government owes them something simply for being alive. It is hard NOT to be contemptuous of those who have no guilt about being would-be parasites who want to live off the productivity of others.

Welcome home, Ricki. I miss your thoughts and ideas when you're gone. And if you disagree with parts of my argument, that's fine.